Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Twilight, et al (also, HNtWaQ 4 breakdown)

Sometime in 2006 (or early 2007), my sister-in-law, Paula, who knew I loved reading, mentioned that she had a cousin who was being touted as the next J.K. Rowling. I reacted about how you'd expect: with congratulatory skepticism. Still, I Googled her cousin's name and read the book description. And the glowing reviews. And marveled over the cover, with two white hands holding a red apple on a black background. Huh, I thought. Might actually be worth reading.

My library provided me with a copy very quickly and I got to reading. I have never been so sucked into a book. By the time I was finished, I couldn't imagine a world in which Bella and Edward weren't real, living, breathing people. They haunted me. I immediately put NEW MOON on hold... but there was a really long waiting list. The librarian I appealed to estimated that I might get a copy in about a month. A MONTH! (I've never had the cash for all the books I want to buy.) I was devastated. I re-read TWILIGHT to soothe my anxiety... and got an email from the library the next day. NEW MOON was mine! I read it. Then read them both again.

To this day, those two books are the only books I've ever re-read immediately upon finishing them. (Well, that I can remember. I've been reading a long time.)

That year, for my anniversary, I got my own copies. Then purchased and devoured ECLIPSE as soon as it came out. I went with a group of 30-something friends to the midnight release of BREAKING DAWN--teh only midnight release I've ever attended. I watched the Twilight movie with a group of Stephenie's cousins (jealous?). I was sort of disappointed by the ending of BD (little-miss-happy-thoughts ruined what could have been a wonderful battle scene), but, overall, loved the series. I still love the series.

One of the miraculous things the Twilight Saga did for me was make it seem possible to write amazing stories. Some authors (ahemBrandonSandersonahem) write so well, young writers despair of ever being that good. Others write so poorly (ahemyouknowwhoI'mtalkingaboutahem), they make it look too easy to get published (in an "I can write better than that!" sort of way). Stephenie Meyer made quality seem possible. She is a large part of the reason I finally started to take my half-formed ambition seriously.

She blew me away, though, with THE HOST. I think it's the best thing she's written so far, and I can't wait to see the movie. And sequels.

On April 19th, I presented a bastardized version of the very nice official blurb for THE HOST. I even made it exactly 190 words long, like the official blurb is. Here they both are together:

Official (Good) Blurb
My (Bad) Blurb
Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away.

Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparently unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed.

When Melanie, one of the few remaining "wild" humans is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Wanderer probes Melanie's thoughts, hoping to discover the whereabouts of the remaining human resistance. Instead, Melanie fills Wanderer's mind with visions of the man Melanie loves—Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she has been tasked with exposing. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love.
Have you ever felt trapped in your own body? Unable to choose how you will talk or move? Can you imagine how it would feel to be taken over by a parasitic host that can control your every move? What if that parasite is better at being you than you are? Would you welcome an invader that could eradicate poverty? Cure any disease? Drop the crime rate to zero?

Melanie doesn't care how good the invaders are at being human. She just wants to be left alone with her boyfriend Jared and her brother Jamie, to try to survive as three of the last remaining free humans. She doesn't get her wish. Instead, she is captured and taken over by Wanderer, a "soul" whose most important job is to help find the very humans Melanie would give her life for.

But Melanie is different: she refuses to fade away. Instead, her love for Jared and Jamie helps her hang around, fighting back in the only way she knows how: by concealing their location from Wanderer, who can read every thought in her head and examine every memory she’s ever made.

Part of the learning process, for me, is figuring out what is wrong by seeing what makes it right. Since it's impossible to know for sure if my own book's query is right before I have an agent tell me, I find that intentionally writing blurbs wrong and then comparing them to the official blurbs can help.

So what did I do wrong this time?

Don't Open with a Question
If the agent you want hasn't ever actually felt trapped in his/her own body, they will read the first line and answer No. The last thing you want an agent saying while reading your query is "No."

Worse, most questions are transparently designed to force the reader to imagine themselves in the roll of the protagonist. If you've ever been in a training where the teacher told you to close your eyes and imagine [insert any number of things you don't want to imagine, thank you], you know how that feels. Don't make your dream agent feel like you're forcing your world on them.

Finally, questions are condescending. They subtly imply that you can't possibly figure out how the protagonist feels unless it is spelled out for you. My questions, especially, attempt to force you to examine two sides of an issue, suggesting that you wouldn't examine both sides without my questions.

The official blurb does the two-issues thing more organically: by describing both Melanie and Wanderer. By making them both seem like real people. Whenever a reader has two opposing people to like, they will naturally start to see both sides. Spelling-out not required.

Describe the Real Conflict
Reading my blurb, a reader would likely come away with the impression that Melanie is the protagonist, Wanderer is the antagonist, and that the conflict centers on Melanie trying to hide Jared and Jamie from Wanderer. If you've read the book--or even just the official blurb--you know that's not true. If anything, Wanderer is the protagonist, not Melanie. Also, as the official blurb states, the two become allies on a joint quest for Jared. Though the first part of the book is about Melanie keeping things from Wanderer, most of the book has them working together.

This, by the way, is a great blurb to emulate if your plot takes a directional change after the first act. (Though, really, if you're not already established, you should probably stick to making your main conflict apparent in the first few chapters.)

Keep it Simple, Stupid
If you'll notice, the official blurb does not mention Jamie at all, even though, in point of fact, Wanderer is well aware before they set out that Jamie will probably be with Jared. Why doesn't the official blurb mention him?  Because he's unnecessary. Not to the plot, of course, but to the blurb. All the blurb has to do is tell us what the protagonist(s) want. What Melanie/Wanderer want is to reunite with the one(s) they love. This desire begins a quest, which fuels the rest of the book (even when they find them, they don't get their reunion--that takes the rest of the book).

I'll stop there, but feel free to add on. What else makes the official blurb superior to mine?


  1. I still remember the first time I read Twilight. I was in LOVE.

  2. I suck at this kind of thing and bow to your superiority.

    The Host is one of my favorite books.

  3. Great suggestions on how to write a blurb. I could use all the help I can get!

  4. Wow, you covered blurb 101 and reminded me how much I enjoyed the Twilight series all in one post! I haven't read the Host yet, but I hope to before the movie comes out. It's in my TBR pile.

    I'm loving A to Z and will hate to see it end, but I'm glad I found some quality blogs like yours to continue to follow.

  5. I felt the same way about the Twilight series. And now maybe I'll actually read The Host.

  6. Yes. Simple. I read too, to only write about the first 30 pages. (agent, K.Nelson's blog) This was helpful to me in keeping subplots out, without the guilt. Your tips are great. Thanks.